Trust and integrity: Assurance needed!

By Bernie McKendrey

Deputy Chair, Institute of Internal Auditors

I began writing this article during our first month of COVID-19 lockdown.

As a governance risk and assurance professional, I kept pondering about how our “high trust” model was going to work. I ‘trust’ me to do the right thing, but what about the rest of the team of 5 million? We were not individually asked to follow the rules for the greater good. Although ‘in general’ we did as was asked, not surprisingly not everyone in the team followed the rules – including a government minister or two!

Lockdown life proceeded at pace, countries took varying approaches, and many claims were made, here and internationally. We started hearing the phrase “fact checking” and from the challenges to our daily media briefings “what assurance can you provide that …….”

Trust, confidence and integrity are built over time. When we don’t ‘abide by the rules’, confidence and trust are impacted.

Building trust and confidence comes from having integrity and being transparent. It comes from providing the country with the right amount of independent assurance to support and validate the direction taken and responding to contrary claims.

Daily updates were essential, as it was not only the quality and quantity of these updates, but the revisiting and rechecking, and information validation on what was being presented that were critical. If Dr Bloomfield (Director General of Health) didn't know the answer he said so. If his Ministry was in the process of investigation or follow-up, he said so. When mistakes and errors were made, he apologized. Although in some cases he was ‘let down’ by inadequate assurance mechanisms), he earned the nation’s trust by getting the assurance that the problem was being fixed.

Sound decision making is based on many things, as is building collective trust. Critical to this, sound decision making must;

  • Be authentic, communicate and have rigour by relying on questions and challenges; on calling to account and on ‘please explain’.
  • Seek out alternate perspectives by experts    
  • Focus on protecting individual privacy and call out public misinformation, and conspiracy theories
  • Obtain independent, objective, sufficient and appropriate assurance 
  • Review, and conduct lessons-learned exercises: ensuring that necessary actions are taken.

To err is human; don’t squirm, wriggle and make excuses. If you are wrong, ‘admit you are wrong’ - the first time you are questioned. Where you make mistakes, admit, apologise and then work to fix, amend and improve your systems and processes. Back this up with the demonstration of tangible independent assurance that credibly supports your position.

We are managing our COVID response on an ongoing basis based on our “high trust” model. Our team of 5 million is relied upon to do the right thing. Having independent objective assurance makes it possible.

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